Psalms 43:1-5 “Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man. For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
In this article we will look at the altar of God and the altars that should be in the lives of God’s people. We need to read the Scripture carefully. I looked up over a hundred verses where the Bible referred to the altar, to an altar, the false altar, altars to the false gods, the altars of God, the altar of sacrifice in the tabernacle, the altar in the wilderness, the altar in the temple, the altars of Jacob and Isaac as they traveled and searched for the will of God in their life and the altars of Abraham.
There were a couple of things that I discovered that were very consistent with the altars in the Word of God. In particular, I want us to look at the altars of God and the altars of God’s people that seek to please God.
1. The Altar is a Place of Sacrifice
It is a place where you give what you have. You give of your resources. You give of your wealth. In the Bible the children of Israel gave of their material things or of the animals or of their crops. They would bring it to the altar and offer it as a sacrifice to God. They would bring either a burnt sacrifice, or a heave offering, or a waive offering, or an offering that they would cast it into the wind. They would offer a blood sacrifice where they would literally sacrifice the animals on the altar. You’ve heard about the altar of incense indicating our prayers; that was when they would slay the sacrifice in front of the altar and cut out the fat and burn the sacrifice on the altar.
2. The Altar is a Place of God’s Presence
The altar was the place where people would say to the Lord, “I submit, I surrender, I give my best to thee, I honor thee. You are God in my life. You are King in my life. I am subservient to you. I humble myself before you.” So it was a place of sacrifice and worship, but it was also a place where the Lord was.
Do you remember Jacob? Jacob had the dream where he saw the ladder and the angel of the Lord. He wrestled with the angel of the Lord. One of the first things he did after that was he built an altar. I think in his thinking he said, “This is where I met God and therefore I am going to commemorate this thing. I am putting an altar here. Every time I come near that place I am going to make a sacrifice and I am going to worship God because this is one of the places where God is. This is the place where I met the Lord. I might meet Him here again.” He had that altar experience.
We see the same thing with Isaac and the same thing with Abraham. These great patriarchs of our faith, these men of God, they had many altars that they built. These altars were personal altars that were built in their lives.
Like the Lord’s Supper, the altar at the church is also a place to make sure that you are right with your Christian brothers. In the biblical sense, for the Lord’s Supper, you are supposed to be right with God and with your fellow man. You see the two beams of the cross. That beam which is vertical points us to heaven and that beam which is horizontal encompasses the world of people for whom Christ died. We are to take the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him. We are to do it without malice, hatred, immolation, or jealousy in our hearts toward our brothers. The same thing applies at the church altar.
Matthew 5:23-24 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
As a matter of fact, the church altar is almost a little more direct that the Lord’s Supper. I believe the Bible indicates in the Lord’s Supper that it is okay to make things right in our hearts with God about a matter and go ahead and observe that supper. Then put commitment to your prayers and make things right. We need to have the genuine heart attitude that will be followed up by action. We need the true repentance of spirit and change of mind and in our heart that is going to result in a change in our life. The Lord’s Supper ought to have that affect in our lives. However, here at this altar of sacrifice God says you might as well get up from praying. There is no use making a sacrifice or doing anything until first you go to that brother that is offended and do what you can to make things right. You do your part, make things right, then come and offer your sacrifice.
The Bible is very clear about this. You cannot say you love God and not love the people that God loves. The Bible says that is hypocritical. It is hypocrisy. It is not true love.
Matthew 25:40 “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
If that is true in the good sense, that if we are a blessing to someone we are blessing God, then I believe that under that same great Bible truth when we are a trouble, hurt, or curse to someone it is displeasing to God. If your blessing blesses God, then certainly your cursing is cursing God.
James 3:9-10 “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”
The altar is not only a place of sacrifice, it is not only a place where there is the presence of the Lord, but it is also a place where we make sure we are right in our hearts with our fellow man. Too many of our decisions are based on our attitudes and our interpersonal relationships with other people and not really with the will of God.
There are some people in this world that cannot get along with anybody. They think nobody is as smart as they are. Nobody knows everything they know. Nobody is as accurate on every fine point of theological controversy as they are accurate. Anybody that doesn’t agree with them after a period of time, sooner or later, they either have to have a conflict or leave. There are people like that in this world that we live in. God will not even recognize your sacrifice if you do not learn how to surrender that thing to the Lord first and make things right with your fellow man.
An altar is a place where the presence of God is met. On that old rugged cross both of those things took place in a perfect form in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ gave himself a sacrifice. He, being God in the flesh. The old rugged cross became God’s altar of sacrifice and His presence.
The altar of God and the altars in the life of God’s people are important. I am talking about the personal altars in your life: the places where you meet with God, your personal investment, your personal sacrifice, your personal everyday walk with God. You see, I think that too many of us play church and we have religion, but we do not have any altars in our lives. We do not have any place where we meet God. The ultimate altar is the old rugged cross.
Colossians 1:20 “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”
II Corinthians 5:18 “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;